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MARCEL CARNÉ

France

Born: Paris, France, 18 August 1909.
Died: Clamart, France, 31 October 1996.


Marcel Carné (JPG, 13 KB)

Carné's place in film history is assured as the foremost exponent of Poetic Realism, especially in his collaborations with the poet/scriptwriter Jacques Prévert.

Carné trained as a photographed and started in film as a journalist (for Cinémagazine) and assistant director to René Clair and especially Jacques Feyder. His first film, Nogent, Eldorado du dimanche (1930), was a documentary on working-class leisure, heralding his interest in "ordinary people"; during the Popular Front period he worked briefly with thte left cooperative Ciné-Liberté. With Jenny (1936, starring Françoise Rosay), Carné established his poetic-realist universe: stylized urban decors, a cast of workers and marginals, a dark and pervasive atmosphere of doom shot through with the genuine poetry of the everyday. It was followed by Hôtel du Nord, Quai des brumes (both 1938) and Le Jour se lève (1939). These films showcased the work of Carné's brilliant team: set designer Alexandre Trauner, composers Maurice Jaubert and Joseph Kosma, émigré cameramen Eugen Schüfftan and Curt Courant, actors like Jean Gabin, Louis Jouvet, Michel Simon and Michèle Morgan. Last but not least was Prévert, who contributed sardonic humour (as in the surreal-burlesque Drôle de drame, 1937) and romantic fatalism, especially in Quai des brumes and Le Jour se lève, for which he wrote the dialogue.

In the constrained context of the German occupation, Carné, with Prévert, switched to costume dramas. Les Visiteurs du soir (1942) was a medieval fable, and Les Enfants du paradis (1943-45) an exuberant reconstruction of the Parisian theatre of the 1830s, with a remarkable performance by Arletty. While these two films drew on the "poetic" side of poetic realism, Les Portes de la nuit (1946) seemed the swan-song of its dark populism. Carné, with Prévert, switched to natural decors (La Marie du port, 1950) and contemporary subjects, such as the much criticized but highly popular Les Tricheurs (1958), a portrait of the young generation, but he never regained his prewar status. However, Thérèse Raquin (1953, starring Simone Signoret) and L'Air de Paris (1954, with Arletty and Gabin) show that Carné still excelled at evoking, respectively, doomed passion and a nostalgic popular Paris.

— Ginette Vincendeau, Encylopedia of European Cinema



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